Timbuktu (World Heritage)

Hardly any other city in the Sahara is tainted with as much myth as Timbuktu. The world heritage includes mosques, mausoleums and cemeteries that were built using traditional clay construction. Timbuktu was once an important hub for the caravan trade and the spiritual and religious center of the Mali and Songhai empires. Today, however, little reminds of the glamorous times. The city is severely threatened by the encroachment of the desert.

Timbuktu: facts

Official title: Mosques, mausoleums and cemeteries of Timbuktu
Cultural monument: in the “City of 333 Wise Men” 3 houses of worship: the 80×30 m large mosque, the Sankore mosque, enlarged in the 15th century with a square floor plan and the massive pyramidal minaret, and the Sidi Yahia mosque (around 1440); in the Middle Ages important trading center and “port of the desert”
Continent: Africa
Country: Mali
Location: Timbuktu (Tombouctou), northeast of Bamako, north of the Niger, on the southern edge of the Sahara
Appointment: 1988
Meaning: once the most important trading center on the Trans-Saharan route, center for the Islamization of Africa

Timbuktu: history

around 1100 probably founding of Timbuktu as a Tuareg camp
1270-1330 Timbuktu’s first heyday among the Malinke (Mandingo)
1353 Visit of the Arab chronicler Ibn Battuta
1325 Start of construction of the Great Mosque (Djinger-ber)
1434 Conquest of Timbuktu by the Tuareg
1468 On the orders of the ruler of the Songhai Empire, Sonni Ali Ber, slaughter among the clergy of Timbuktu
1493-1592 Timbuktu flourished again under the Songhai Askia dynasty
1510-40 Timbuktu is developing into a stronghold of Islamic learning, 180 Koran schools with 20,000 students
1591/92 Campaign of the Moroccan general Djuder to Timbuktu, fall of the Songhai Empire
1818 Conquest of Timbuktus by supporters of the Islamic reform movement
1828 Visit of the French adventurer René Caillié
1853/54 Stay of the German explorer Heinrich Barth
2003 severe damage to the historic cityscape from floods
2006 Timbuktu is the world capital of Islamic culture
March to May 2012 After a military coup by Islamist rebels, severe damage in Timbuktu such as B. the tombs of Sidi Mahmud, Sidi Moctar and Alpha Moya
June 2012 Timbuktu on the Red List of World Heritage in Danger
January 2013 French troops displaced the rebels; Loss of some historical manuscripts after a library fire

Behind oceans of sand

“We finally reached Timbuktu at sunset,” noted the French René Caillié on April 20, 1828. “Entering the mysterious city, which is the subject of curiosity and research by the civilized nations of Europe, was an indescribable satisfaction for me. How many thanksgiving prayers did I say for the protection that God had given me in the face of almost insurmountable obstacles and dangers! When I looked around, however, the city was nothing more than a collection of shabby mud houses. ”

Disguised as a Muslim, Caillié visited the mysterious city that, then as now, has given wings to fantasies since Kankan Musa, ruler of Mali, whose area of ​​influence included Timbuktu, made a stop in Cairo on his pilgrimage to Mecca in 1324. During this stay he brought so much gold among the people that the Venetian merchants present in Cairo assumed that gold was in abundance in the land of Kankan Musa. Since then, the wildest rumors have been circulating in Europe. There was talk of magnificent palaces with golden roofs, of an African Eldorado, inaccessible somewhere behind “oceans of sand”.

In fact, in the 15th and 16th centuries, Timbuktu developed into a cosmopolitan trading city under the rule of the Songhai, benefiting from its border location between White and Black Africa. Timbuktu was a transshipment point and “desert port”: salt from the desert was exchanged for gold from the south, goods from the Arab region for slaves. Nomadic ranchers and sedentary farmers met here, fair-skinned and black, and Timbuktu became a melting pot, united by Islam, which had reached sub-Saharan Africa with the Arab traders.

The three old mosques still bear witness to its earlier importance: Sidi Yahia, Sankore and, above all, Djinger-ber, the Great Mosque. This massive earth building is plastered every year in joint work so that it can withstand the next rainy season. On Friday at noon, the men of Timbuktu come together here for prayer as always. Only sparse light falls into the main nave, which is supported by a forest of meter-thick columns. Mats are spread out on the sandy floor. In their traditional robes, the splendidly embroidered boubous, the men kneel down and bow to the east, mumbling.

Timbuktu was not only a commercial center, but, as a bridgehead for Islam south of the Sahara, it was above all a spiritual center. 20,000 students are said to have studied rhetoric, logic, law, medicine and astronomy with the best teachers of the era in addition to the Koran and Arabic. The University of Sankore in particular was widely famous. Prosperity, it is said, was measured by the number of books someone owned. “City of 333 saints,” they still say today, city of wisdom, because 333 wise men are said to be buried here.

Thousands of valuable manuscripts documenting the history of Timbuktu are archived in the “Center Ahmed Baba”. But the fonts, the oldest of which dates from the 13th century, are stored in simple glass cabinets and are exposed to the weather, pests and the increasingly threatening desert sand. There is simply not enough money to maintain them.

According to listofusnewspapers, today Timbuktu is considered the last corner even in Mali. There is still no asphalt road from the capital Bamako to the barren north, and the Tuareg uprising in the first half of the 1990s only increased this isolation. With the constant wind, the sand penetrates through all the cracks and blows the streets away. Some quarters are in ruins, the market makes a poor impression. Nevertheless, life went on its leisurely pace for a long time: women stamped grain, children carried buckets of water home, learned verses from the Koran or curiously besieged some tourists. In 2012, however, the city got caught up in the struggle for independence and was the scene of destruction by Islamists and Tuareg rebels fighting for a state of their own in northern Mali. In early 2013, some historical manuscripts were lost in a library fire when the rebels withdrew. The fate of Timbuktu remains uncertain even after the rebels were driven out by French troops as part of the Serval operation.

Timbuktu (World Heritage)

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